Pantanal Conservation Area (Brazil)


Ecosystems and beneficiaries

The Pantanal Conservation Complex consists of a cluster of four protected areas, with a total area of 187,818 ha (UNESCO, 2014), and is located in western central Brazil. The site represents 1.3% of Brazil's Pantanal region, which is one of the world's largest freshwater wetland ecosystems. Two major rivers flow from these headwaters. There is a high species abundance and diversity, including plants and birds, the latter attracting many tourists. Beneficiaries of the ecosystem therefore include these tourists (two-thirds of whom are from outside Brazil (Araújo & Bicalho, 2009)), as well as local cattle farmers and fishermen.

The local economy

The Pantanal is remote from the main centres of economic activity in Brazil; the nearest airport is located in the city of Cuiabá (around 100km away), which is the gateway to the region. Development in the Pantanal has been hindered by the cyclical hydrological regime: the Pantanal is an immense alluvial plain which becomes extensively flooded during the rainy season, temporarily storing a large volume of water (Swarts, 2000). Whilst cattle grazing is conducted in the Pantanal, it is sparsely populated, and in recent years many ranches have switched to tourist lodges due to the declining profitability of ranching and the growing tourism sector (Araújo & Bicalho, 2009). Sustainable economic activities based on use of the ecosystem have been identified (Dolabella, 2000) as:

  • cattle ranching, which has been conducted largely in natural pastures for 200 years with minimal negative impact on the environment, and the Brazilian Association of Organic Producers now has a number of members in the area raising organic cattle;
  • tourism, mainly nature-based or eco-tourism, is another important (over 250,000 tourists a year in the southern Pantanal (Araújo & Bicalho, 2009)), and growing, economic activity, though ideally further growth would be aligned with a strategic plan to minimize negative impacts;
  • sustainable fishing, though this requires not focussing on a limited number of species.

    Type of economic analysis undertaken

    The main economic analysis relating to the Pantanal was published in 2000 (Seidl & Moraes, 2000) and is based on the values contained in Costanza et al.'s much-cited Nature paper (Costanza et al, 1997). The study focuses on Nhecolândia, which is the second largest of the eleven Pantanal sub-regions, comprising some 19.5% of the region (Silva et al., 1998), though with a very small population (less than 2,000 inhabitants). The different biomes in the area were identified using satellite data and field plots were used to typify the general biophysical features of the categories. These were then assigned to one of four broad biome categories identified by Costanza et al (1997). The values of ecosystem services (simply transferring the per hectare/year values from the Costanza et al. study) were then weighted to appropriately reflect the amount of time and area spent providing services of a particular biome. For example, low-lying, flat grazing-lands were considered grasslands for two-thirds of the year and wetlands for one-third of the year. Note that these proportions, whilst considered typical for Nhecolândia, may not necessarily apply to other Pantanal sub-regions.

    Main findings from the study

    Table 5 shows the estimated annual value of a wide range of provisioning, regulating and cultural ecosystem services and benefits in Pantanal da Nhecolândia. The first column of values list those reported in the original study, the second are up-rated (by Consumer Prices Index inflation measure).

    Ecosystem service categories US$ (1994) per hectare per year US$ (2013) per hectare per year
    Water supply 1977.11 3108.41
    Disturbance regulation 1,747.19 2,746.93
    Cultural 25.13 668.39
    Water regulation 378.81 595.56
    Nutrient cycling 185.06 290.95
    Recreation/tourism 157.37 247.42
    Habitat/refugia 105.88 166.46
    Raw materials  75.05 117.99
    Gas regulation 67.35 105.89
    Erosion control 63.41 99.69
    Food production 53.4 83.96
    Climate regulation 44.76 70.37
    Soil formation 22.37 35.17
    Pollination 12.27 19.29
    Biological control 11.29 17.75
    Genetic resources 8.23 12.94
    Total annual reggional value 5839.72 9181.21


    General conclusions from the case study

    Together, water supply and disturbance regulation (flood control) contribute close to two-thirds of the total calculated value. This makes sense due to the hydrological importance of this site. Some values were not included in the above (e.g. non-use and educational). However, evidence suggests that these are also significant. For example, multilateral donors provide grants for conservation activity and a former ranch of almost 8,000 ha of protected area was purchased for scientific research.

    Cross-checking results with other studies of the area can be useful. For example, Shrestha et al, (2002) examined the recreational fishing value of the Pantanal using the travel cost method (see Section 4.3.2). It estimated that total social welfare ranged from US$35 million to US$56 million (1994 values). Recreational fishing was estimated to account for 80% of recreation at that time (Araújo & Bicalho, 2009). So, adjusting for this, results in an upper recreation value estimate of US$67 million (1994) for the whole of the Pantanal, which compares with around US$157 million in the above study (Table 5) just for Nhecolândia.